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1/24/2007
03:51 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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In A Virtual Den Of Vice And Iniquity, Your Feet Don't Stick To The Floor

I had my first visit to Mature-rated area of Second Life. It wasn't on purpose. Message to my wife: You hear that? I didn't do it on purpose! Do I have to keep sleeping on the couch?

I had my first visit to Mature-rated area of Second Life. It wasn't on purpose. Message to my wife: You hear that? I didn't do it on purpose! Do I have to keep sleeping on the couch?

Subsequent to my posts on Monday describing my first experiences with SL, I got two very nice welcome messages from two separate SL players. Both of them make it a mission to welcome new players into Second Life. They're not staff or contractors, they're not paid to do it, they just do it out of enlightened self-interest.

I arranged to interview both of them. We did a little back-and-forth over logistics. My end of the exchange was in real life, over e-mail. Second Life has a gateway between its chat and Internet mail, which is very handy. Logistics was a little tricky because of time zones, and so I finally decided, what the heck, let's do the interview in the game.

At the appointed time, my first interview, Dirjha Summers, ports me over to Midian City. "Ports" is short for "teleports" -- she basically moves my avatar from where it was to her in-game location, Midian City, with my permission.

Midian City is the name of a "sim," or an area within Second Life. You might say it's a game-within-a-game.

Second Life isn't just a virtual world, it's a set of tools for building virtual worlds. Think of Second Life as being like the Web itself, a set of protocols, software, and servers that can be taken up by its users to create their own little areas.

The analogy isn't exact. The Web isn't owned by anyone, but Second Life is. It's owned by a company called Linden Labs. And yet, Linden Labs is in the process of converting SL to open source software and protocols, according to reports, so maybe one day Linden Labs will be just one of many companies involved in maintaining Second Life.

Midian City is, as far as I can, one of the most well-developed and extensive areas in Second Life. It is also, says Dirjha Summers, one of the most beautiful, and the pictures on this blog post certainly support that opinion. The post also contains a description of Midian City; check it out. And check out these remarkable images of Midian.

Midian City is an area where players in Second Life go to play-act, like children playing cowboys and Indians. Except this is a grown-up kind of play-acting, the kind I've often heard described as online Live-Action Role-Playing Games, or LARPs.

In my discussion with Dirjha, and other readings, I see that Midian is a nighttime, run-down city, populated by vice and criminal gangs. It reminds me of the movie Sin City. Dirjha says it's more like Bladerunner with supernatural elements.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first thing I see when I appear in Midian City is that I'm in the middle of a dark bar. Everything around me, the walls, furniture and bar, is a deep scarlet. I'm facing a stage and there's a scantily clad exotic dancer undulating on it.

Yikes! This is certainly not what I expected! I'd known about sexual roleplay inside Second Life, of course, you can't read about the game without learning about it. But I'd decided at the outset of the article not to get involved. I've been involved in online communities for 18 years now, and I know that the distinction between online interaction and real life is purely physical. The world is virtual, but the emotions are real. Virtual sex would be morally equivalent to cheating on my wife; I'm just not going to do it.

Later, I ask Dirjha if she was testing me by teleporting me to Midian City without warning. She says she did warn me. And I believe her -- or, rather, I don't disbelieve her. At that point in the game, I find the interface to SL to be confusing, it's entirely possible, indeed likely, that I missed a message or e-mail where she told me about herself and about Midian City prior to bringing me there.

Midian City doesn't seem to be all about sex. But sexual role-play seems to be a large component of the enjoyment of it.

So Dirjha comes offstage and we have a little text chat. Text chat is the primary channel for communications in Second Life.

She won't tell me her real-life name, but she does tell me a little about her offline life: She's in her mid-30s, she does PR, arranges interviews and does graphic design for a radio station at a midsize American city. She's been in SL for about 10 months and already has a hand in multiple activities: role-playing in Midian City, sailing a virtual boat, desiging her avatar -- which really is quite attractive. And not wearing much in the way of clothing at all. And she also designs clothing.

She spends about six hours a day in SL, more on weekends.

She's planning on opening a small shop to sell some of her creations for in-game currency, called Linden Dollars. Linden Dollars are exchangeable for real-world dollars, or you can just use your Linden Dollars to buy more in-game stuff: buildings, land, clothing, tools, spaceships, services from other players, etc.

The economy inside Second Life is somewhat controversial.

At this point, my wife walks into my office -- my real-world wife in my real-world home office. Before my wife sees what's on screen, I try to explain what I'm doing. The explanation involves quite a bit of stammering and chattering really fast.

The interview is interrupted once more: A female avatar walks into the bar, and Dirjha greets her by name, as Sylvia. The avatar demands to know how Dirjha knows her name. I think, gee, maybe Sylvia is a newbie, like me, but even newer -- doesn't she realize her name is floating above her head? Dirjha replies: "There aren't a lot of secrets in Midian City, hon. Get used to it." Something about the film-noir tone of Dirjha's reply makes me realize that they're role-playing now.

Sylvia's avatar takes out a dagger and begins toying with it menacingly. I ask Dirjha if we should be alarmed. Dirjha says, no, while her avatar is currently not geared up for combat, the hospital is right next door.

So far, Sylvia is ignoring me, and a good thing too. I think about saying to her, don't stab me, I'm only the piano player, but I doubt that many of the characters in Midian City are fans of very early Elton John songs.

Dirjha and I chat a bit more, and Sylvia begins eyeing me menacingly. She still has the dagger.

I say goodbye to Dirjha, and sign off of Second Life for dinner. I forget to save the transcript of mine and Dirjha's chat.

To tell you the truth, I'm a little flustered by the whole experience. I'm worried that my wife might be upset. I wouldn't want her to see me looking at Internet porn, and this is close enough that I wouldn't blame her if she was angry. Turned out she wasn't upset -- at least, I think she wasn't -- she just laughed it off.

My next interview is more mundane, although, I think, equally interesting. Tateru Nino, who also won't tell me her real name or even her real gender, is like Dirjha, and she makes it a mission to greet newcomers to the game and help them get acclimated. We meet in an area of the game she describes as her office, little more than a floating platform in the sky, with two benches on which avatars can sit facing each other and chat. This time, I remember to save the chat log. And, before I sign off, I ask Dirjha if she happened to save the chat log, and, if so, to send it to me.

I find Tateru Nino to be very helpful and pleasant, even charming. Interestingly enough, she says that in real life, she has Asperger's syndrome and would be considered anti-social by most people. I've read there's a large contingent of people who have autism or Asperger's in Second Life, and that they are often beautiful and charming in the game.

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